Stampede marks centennial with sculpture

Stampede set for July 6-15 | Bronze artwork shows cowboys’ and horses’ struggle to cross Bow River

The unveiling of a larger than life sculpture depicting horses and cowboys struggling to make a river crossing marks the past and future of the Calgary Stampede.

By the Banks of the Bow was created by two artists from Longview, Alta., who have been working together on the piece for four years. The sculpture is intended to represent the past, present and future of the Stampede’s western heritage.

Rich Roenisch took over the pieces that show horses from 100 years ago traversing the Bow River while Bob Spaith created the modern bucking broncs.

The unveiling was the first time the two had seen the completed bronze, which includes two cowboys and 15 horses.

“It’s how we pictured it,” said Roenisch.

The concept was intended to be realistic while still encouraging viewers to use their imagination.

“We wanted the action to make sense. There was a reason for what each horse was doing,” he said.

The work builds like a Chinook cloud on the horizon and then fades into the future.

The two artists worked until almost the last minute, applying the last lacquers that will protect the bronze and keep it from oxidizing too quickly.

Over time, the work will take on a green patina.

“Bronze gets better as it ages,” Roenisch said.

They started with a small concept, in which the horses’ heads were no more than 10 centimetres long, and then scaled it nearly eight times to its present size.

The work was cast in Kalispell, Montana, because there wasn’t a nearby foundry large enough to handle the work. Each horse was cast separately and the entire work consisted of 700 panels that were cast, welded and sand blasted.

The work was placed in a plaza in front of the Stampede agriculture building, which was built in 1920.

The sculpture and renovations to the agriculture building were part of a $4.4 million face lift given to the site to mark the Stampede centennial.

Construction will start on a major agriculture events centre to the south as soon as this year’s fair is over. The provincial and federal governments have each contributed $25 million to the project.

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